The ‘Melochord’, Harald Bode, Germany, 1947

Harld Bode's Melochord

Harld Bode’s Melochord of 1947

The Melochord was a post-war  development of  Bodes’ earlier Melodium, which, due to it’s complexity and unorthodox design wasn’t suitable for mass production. After the war, Bode cannibalised parts from the Melodium to build the Melochord, a monophonic keyboard instrument based on vacuum tube technology. The keyboard used pitches derived from the traditional equal-tempered 12 note scale with switches extending the 37 note range from three octaves to seven. A foot pedal allowed overall control of the volume and a novel electronically operated envelope shaper could be triggered for each key.
“…So from 1939 to 1945 I didn’t do anything other than writing a few publications on the field of electronic music. In 1947, when we finally got out of the mess of the post-war period, I created the Melochord. It was originally intended as an instrument which combined melody and chord capability all in one manual, but I then decided to use two voices on this one manual and split up a five-octave keyboard in such a way that the upper three octaves were assigned to one generator and the lower two octaves assigned to another generator. It was designed so that those two portions of the keyboard were independent, so they went to separate tone shaping means and to separate expression pedals, and the voices were arranged to allow for voice crossings. It was used on the German Broadcasting System, especially in Munich. It was not a production instrument (commercial product, that is), it was built and used by myself and was leased out to movie companies and for use in recordings with bands. It was also featured in a band I travelled with (as well as recorded with) in Germany. A second Melochord was commissioned by the Bonn University through Meyer-Eppler, who also initiated the work of Dr. Enkel at the Cologne Electronic Music Studio. This is how the Melochord was commissioned by the Cologne Electronic Music Studio. It was used by Karlheinz Stockhausen thereafter. Also, a Melochord was built for use by the NWDR in Hamburg and for a theatre in Munich, and a few others but it was not a mass production item.”
Interview with Harald Bode, 1980 by SYNE magazine
Later version Melochord

Later version Melochord

A later version incorporated two keyboards the second keyboard being able to control the timbre of the other, a technique used in later modular type synthesizers.The Melochord was used extensively in the early days of the electronic studio at Bonn University by Dr Werner Meyer-Eppler and was later installed at North West German Radio studios in Köln (alongside a Monochord and a simple oscillator and filter system) where it was used by the Elektronische Musik group throughout the 1950′s. Artists who used the Melochord and Monochord at the studio included Herbert Eimert, Robert Beyer, Karel Goeyvarts, György Ligeti, Henri Posseur, Karlheinz Stockhausen and others.

Bode playing the Melochord

Bode playing the Melochord

Despite the instruments technical drawbacks, the Melochord was destined to play a historic role in the future of electronic music, Meyer-Eppler’s visionary and influential work “Klangmodelle” and lectures at Darmstadt New Music School were all based on the Melochord and in 1961 Harald Bode, recognizing the significance of transistor based technology over valve based synthesis, wrote a paper that was to revolutionise electronic musical instruments. Bode’s ideas of modular and miniature self contained transistor based machines was taken up and developed in the early 1960′s by Robert Moog and Donald Buchla amongst others.

Biographical notes

Harald Bode; October 19, 1909 Hamburg Germany – January 15, 1987 New York USA.

Harald Bode; October 19, 1909 Hamburg Germany – January 15, 1987 New York USA.

Bode Studied  mathematics, physics and natural philosophy at Hamburg University, graduating in 1934. In 1937, with funding support provided by the composer and band-leader, Christian Warnke, Bode produced his first instrument the ‘Warbo-Formant Orgel’ (‘Warbo’ being a combination of the names Warnke and Bode). Bode moved to Berlin in 1938 to complete a postgraduate course at the Heinrich Hertz Institute where he collaborated with Oskar Vierling and Fekko von Ompteda. During this period Bode developed the ‘Melodium’ ;  a unique monophonic touch-sensitive, multi-timbral instrument used extensively in film scores of the period.

When WWII started in 1939 Bode worked on military submarine sound and wireless communication projects “…We had the only choice in Germany, to go to military service or do work for the government. I praise myself lucky, that I was able to go to the electronic industry” and moved to the  small village Neubeuern in southern Germany, where in 1947 Bode built the first European post-war electronic instrument, the ‘Melochord’. In 1949 Bode joined the AWB company where he created the  ‘Polychord’ a simpler, polyphonic version of the ‘Melochord’ which was followed by the ‘Polychord III’ in 1951 and the  ‘Bode Organ’, a commercial organ which became the prototype for the famous Estey Electronic Organ. After leaving AWB, Bode’s designs included the ‘Tuttivox’, a miniature electronic organ and collaborated on a version of Georges Jenny’s ‘Clavioline’, both big sellers throughout Europe.

In 1954 Bode moved to the USA, settling in Brattleboro, Vermont where he lead the development team (and later, Vice President)  at the Estey Organ Corporation. In 1958, while still working at Estey, Bode set up the Bode Electronics Company where in March 1960 he created another unique instrument; a modular synthesiser “A New Tool for the Exploration of Unknown Electronic Music Instrument Performances” known as the  ‘Audio System Synthesiser’ which Robert Moog used as the basis for his line of new Moog synthesisers.

After the Estey Organ Company foundered in 1960, Bode joined the Wurlitzer Organ Co and moved to Buffalo, New York where he was one of the first engineers to recognise the significance of transistor based technology in electronic music.  Bode’s concepts of modular and miniature self-contained transistor based machines was taken up and developed in the early 1960′s by Robert Moog and Donald Buchla amongst others. 1962 saw the beginning of a long collaboration between Bode and the composer Vladimir Ussachevski at the  Columbia Princeton Center for Electronic Music which lead to the development of innovative studio equipment designs such as the  ‘Bode Ring Modulator’ and ‘Bode Frequency Shifter’. The commercial versions of these inventions were produced  under the Bode Sound Co and under license Moog Synthesisers.

Harald Bode retired in 1974 but continued to pursue his own research. In 1977 he created the ‘Bode Vocoder’ (licensed as the ‘Moog Vocoder’). In 1981 he developed his last instrument, the ‘Bode Barberpole Phaser’.


Bode’s Melodium and Melochord by Thomas L. Rhea. Contemporary Keyboard magazine (January 1980, p. 68) 

The ‘Monochord’ Dr Freidrich Trautwein. Germany, 1948


The Elektronische Monochord at WDR Studio, Köln, 1952

The Elektronische Monochord at NDR Studio, Köln, 1952

The Monochord was commissioned from Dr Freidrich Trautwein, the inventor of the Trautonium, by the Electronic Music studio of North West German Radio studios, Köln to upgrade its synthesis module which consisted at the time of one sine wave generator and filter system. The Monochord was basically a modified concert Trautonium with a monophonic variable pitch interval keyboard controlling a valve based tone generator. The keyboard was pressure sensitive and allowed one hand to play pitched notes while the other changed timbre and variations of the envelope shape. A foot pedal controlled the overall volume output from the machine.

WDR Studio, Köln, 1952

NDR Studio, Köln, 1952


The ‘Siemens Synthesiser’ H.Klein & W.Schaaf. Germany, 1959

Siemens Studio

Siemens Studio

The Siemens Synthesiser or ‘Siemens Studio For Electronic Music’ was a German development similar to the RCA Synthesiser originally to compose live electronic music for Siemens’s own promotional documentary films. Like the RCA MkII, The Siemens Studio was a modular ‘composition and synthesis system’ that generated musical sequences and synthesised and recorded the results. The Siemens Synthesiser was developed by Helmut Klein and W.Schaaf at Siemens Halske in Munich, Germany in 1959 for the Studio Für Elektronische Musik in Munich. The Siemens system linked and controlled the studio using a similar system to the RCA Synthesiser, a set of four punch paper vari-speed rolls controlling the timbre, envelope, pitch and volume of a bank of 20 oscillators, a white noise generator, a Hohnerola (a hybrid electronically amplified reed instrument marketed by Hohner-similar to the ‘Multimonica‘) and an impulse generator. The synthesiser had a tonal range of seven octaves.

Siemens studio Equipment:

Tone Generation

  1. Hohnerola: “An electronic tongue-instrument of 84 tones from C to H”
  2. An impulse or sawtooth generator with 84 tones
  3. 1 white noise generator
  4. A generator for statistic impulses which are made from white noise with the help of a trigger
  5. 4 sine tone generators [20 - 20'000 Hz]
  6. 20 special sine generators. These generators a 3 frequency spectrum, from 1r5 – 160 Hz, 150 – 1600 Hz and 1500 – 16000 Hz, with the option of continual change from sine to square wave.
  7. A tone generator based on photo-electric principles

Tone Modulators

  1. Analogue reverb
  2. Echo delay
  3. Pitch transformer
  4. Echo frequency transformer
  5. Vocoder
Programming with the 'Semi Automatic Hole-strip Punching Machine' (left: the coding console. right: the hole puncing machine)

Programming with the ‘Semi Automatic Hole-strip Punching Machine’
(left: the coding console. right: the hole puncing machine)

Additional input devices were also developed for the Siemens Synthesiser; a drawn sound technique (photoelectrically generated sounds) allowed the scanning of photographic slides using Siemens’s specially designed ‘Bildabtaster’ technology. The German painter Günter Maas used this device to translate several of his paintings into musical compositions. Later models also had a Siemens Vocoder built in as a sound controller uniquely for its time, allowing the musician to give the sound vocal envelope characteristics.

The machine room at the 'Studio for Electronic Music' (L-R:punch-paper controller, 2 four channel magnetic tape recorders, 'Bildabtaster' picture-scanner.  Foreground:2 Master magnetic tape machines)

The machine room at the ‘Studio for Electronic Music’
(L-R:punch-paper controller, 2 four channel magnetic tape recorders, ‘Bildabtaster’ picture-scanner.
Foreground:2 Master magnetic tape machines)

The development of the Siemens synthesiser continued after the Munich studio had relocated to Ulm and came to an end when the studio was dissolved in 1969. The Siemens system was used by many European experimental composers throughout the 50′s and 60′s including Mauricio Kagel, Bengt Hambreus, Milko Kelemen and the director of the Munich Studio Für Elektronische Musik, Josef Anton Riedl.

The punch-paper strip controller (Lochstreifen-Schnellsender) A synchronous-motor moves the paper strips across the reader. The 4 parallel moving strips are read by removeable steel wire brushes. The system can also be run in reverse.

The punch-paper strip controller (Lochstreifen-Schnellsender)
A synchronous-motor moves the paper strips across the reader. The 4 parallel moving strips are read by removeable steel wire brushes. The system can also be run in reverse.

Diagram explaining the punch-tape coding for the Seimens Studio

Diagram explaining the punch-tape coding for the Seimens Studio

Coding of the Punch-tape reader:

  1. Pitch: The pitch is defined by two strips. One strip chooses the octave, the second the tones within the octave. There are 7 octaves , and 12 tones within those octaves, making 84 tones in total. They can be chosen in fixed tuning with the electronic tuner or in a tuning that can freely be chosen with the impulse generator and sine generators. Combinations allow the choice of several different generators.
  2. Volume: The volume can be defined in 32 steps of 1,5 dB.
  3. Timbre: The colouring (timbre) by a choice of 14 band filters or filter combinations
  4. Duration: The duration of the signal is defined by the number of equal hole combinations in connection with the reading speed of the punch-paper strip. There are three different speed settings of the paper strip, 64, 90 or 128 signals a second. The normal speed is 64 signals per second, i.e. a duration of 16 ms per signal. The duration is a quarter note, played in Mäzel’s Metronome MM = 120, is 0,5 s which equates to 32 equivalent hole combinations, an eighth note is then 16, a sixteenth note 8 hole combination.


H.Klein:”Uber ein Apparatur zur Steuerung und Verformung von Klängen”,Nachrichtentechnische Fachberichte,cv(1959),31 Répertoire international des musiques expérimentales (Paris,1962),36.

The Siemens Museum Website

Images and details provided by Siemens Aktiengesellschaft, Siemens Forum, München.

“Klangsynthese und Klanganalyse im elektronischen Studio”, Siemens & Halske Aktiengesellschaft 1962